MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Carl Jenkinson of Arsenal clashes with David Silva of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
"If you drive a Ferrari you can win, if you drive a Fiat Cinquecento, probably not." It is hard to say with certainty exactly what Mancini has been driving this season as City spluttered to a 1-1 draw with Arsenal yesterday. To run with his metaphor is come to the conclusion that for the opening weeks of the season the high powered sports car has been stuck in second gear. Whilst a full MOT is not necessary, then some servicing certainly is.
It is hard to disagree with the notion that Arsenal were the more fluent, cohesive unit yesterday and that City are ticking by without individually or collectively hitting the heights they are capable of. Whilst some early season rust was to be expected following the exhilarating climax to last season, Euro 2012 through the summer and the integration of late new faces, now is the time for City to tighten up and put together a run of clean sheets and victories.
Following the galling last 5 minutes at the Bernabeu the question for the home side today was whether there would finally be a defensive shut out in light of a porous start to the season. For a long spell it seemed that the clean sheet was on the cards - in spite of a lack of overall fluency the defence had held firm and other areas of the team were working hard pressurising Arsenal. City were also being helped by the fact that Gervinho was playing erratically, getting into decent areas in the final third but finishing poorly. However, as the visitors began to build up a head of steam in the second half, City's play broke down, passing became careless, the team dropped deeper and the equaliser was no surprise when it came, Koscielny punishing a poor clearance from Lescott after Garcia had misjudged the flight of the corner kick.
City's first half goal had also come from a poorly defended set play. Lescott was restored to the side following his surprise omission in Spain and he guided his header smartly into the top corner, with Mannone flailing badly. On an individual level it was a nice moment for Lescott but there were still one or two incidents during the game where he failed to convince, being beaten to the ball when well set in a foot race with Jenkinson in the first half and failing to react quickly enough for Arsenal's equalizer. Once Nastasic is up to speed he will push Lescott hard for a starting spot alongside Kompany.
Sergio Aguero's name was a welcome sight on the City team sheet and Edin Dzeko was given the opportunity to further his claims for a regular starting birth following a number of sharp substitute appearances. Despite a bright showing, Dzeko was withdrawn with 20 minutes remaining for Tevez, unfortunately so for the Bosnian who had held up play and linked relatively well throughout. He also went close with a first time left foot attempt that drew a fine save from Mannone. Such is his lot. Aguero looked bright enough, although perhaps he should have done better with a chance late on after Kompany's acrobatics, but it was reassuring to see him come through 90 minutes unscathed.
Zabaleta came into the side for the lackadaisical Maicon and was his enthusiastic committed self throughout. In Nasri's absence Scott Sinclair was again preferred to James Milner, confined to the stands for the third game in succession. Arsenal lined up with a dense midfield and their game plan was evidently to shut down time and space for Yaya and Silva centrally and look to overload the wide areas when attacking the City backline. On the whole it worked well for them. The half time introduction of Rodwell for Sinclair was perhaps an admission from Mancini that City had ceded too much possession to the Arsenal midfield with Spanish schemer Santi Carzola prominent. The switch would also have intended to give Yaya Toure licence to charge forward as is his wont in the latter stages of a match. Aside from a typical run at the Arsenal back line where Toure held on to the ball a fraction too long before releasing Aguero, his display was a little subdued. The same applies to the mercurial Silva, who failed to impact on the proceedings at any stage here.
Post game Mancini has bemoaned the time taken to bring players in over the summer and the integration process of those who did come on board could be viewed as a major factor in City's lack of cohesion in the opening weeks of the campaign. The draining nature of the match in Madrid may also have been a factor in City's slowing down towards the close of this game in particular. Perhaps a back to basics approach is required through the next few encounters. Either way, the next 5 fixtures will dictate whether City's start has been solid, sluggish or poor. It is imperative that the side stop conceding sloppy goals in the first instance. Cohesion and creative fluidity will surely come. There are too many good players wearing sky blue for it not to.
Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta